Thursday, 6 December 2007

Guilt and Grace

I've been thinking about this interesting contrast of concepts lately. Guilt and Grace. Within the world of religion, these are often the forefront ideas that will surface when talking about religious beliefs.

Guilt certainly has deep roots in Christianity. For hundreds of years, religious leaders have preyed on the fears of mankind, instilling deep feelings of guilt regarding our very existence. Men are made to feel guilt over their natural tendencies, unavoidable emotions, and personal circumstances. Perhaps guilt was meant to bring us to our knees amidst our growing hubris.

But personally, I don't think guilt has any place in one's spirituality. Guilt and fear are not emotions of God. They are dark, destructive ideas that can never lead to healing or light. All that is good comes from God - guilt is definitely not a productive feeling. I don't believe that guilt leads to a true change of heart. It may temporarily alter one's habits or behaviour, but it doesn't get you to the roots of what God's intentions are for you.

I also believe that guilt isn't an emotion another can make you feel. Guilt by definition is a personal emotion - you feel badly about your own actions. Another could try to point out why you should feel guilt, but only you can actually experience it.

Grace is the gift of God by which he extends mercy, loving-kindness, and salvation to people. I love this definition of grace. I may be undeserving of the gift, but I need not feel guilty about receiving it. As a parent, if I give a gift to my children, there is no expectation in return. I give it freely, simply because I love them. Grace means that I don't need to feel badly about my shortcomings. Grace means that I can daily work to better myself. Grace means that after everything has come to an end, and I still fall short (as all will), it's okay.

I think all too often those of us belonging to religious organizations get caught up in the appearance of things. How many service projects did we total this year? Did I attend all my meetings? Can I check off daily prayer and scripture study? Can I answer all the questions posed to me in Sunday School? Church is not a check list of activities - it's a place to find strength and come to know God. Not to know about him, but to truly know him. Although it's wonderful to be a part of a church family that supports you, ultimately your journey to God and his grace is one you take on your own. Until that is written on your heart, you're bound to get caught in the web of guilt and appearances.

I have friends with religious views that fall all over the map. Some attend religious organizations, others practice their faiths on their own. Some adhere to the tenets of Christianity, others to the doctrine of science. Belief is a personal journey that too often is swept aside in today's materialistic world. I cannot and dare not contend for other's beliefs - I have only the authority to discuss my own. I have found joy - true joy, not momentary happiness - in my own journey - a journey only just begun. I have discarded the chains of guilt and embraced the gift of grace.

PS - I have been enjoying a beautiful rendition of the song "Amazing Grace" by Chris Tomlin lately that speaks of the beauty and peace of grace perfectly. Have a listen at:


Anonymous said...


I love your thoughts about guilt and grace. I can really identify with your words.

I agree we must be very respectful and loving of all our friends’ personal beliefs (not just “tolerant” – what a meaningless word!). But here’s a question that I’ve been pondering a lot lately and I’ll pose it to you: Do you believe in Relative Truth (each person following their own concept of truth), or Absolute Truth (the idea that there is a single universal/spiritual truth for all humankind)?

I struggle with this - the idea of a single truth is very uncomfortable to me. It leaves so many unanswered and difficult questions. And yet… I am continually compelled back to the Bible in my search. And the Bible has some pretty definite words about truth!

To me this is not a question about judging others, or religion bashing, or making people feel bad, it’s just a fundamental spiritual question. Personally, I do feel like organized religion can “add” or “subtract” to what is in the Bible, so I have a hard time subscribing to religion in general. Where I stand now: the Bible is the primary – only, actually – authority that I really trust in my search.

Anyway, I realize these thoughts aren’t totally on topic with your post, but I thought I’d put it out there. Feel free to disregard it!

Take care. Hope you and your boys are thriving!

Terri-Ann said...

Hmmm...relative truth and absolute truth. You've left a question about which I wanted to ponder for a bit. Can I say I believe in both? I believe that each person must follow what they believe to be the Absolute truth. If I believe in a God that is perfect, unchanging and infinite, then I don't think He can have conflicting/different truths. There must be an absolute truth to which He subscribes. My purpose on earth is to find that truth.

I believe there are two methods by which we find truth - first through our own study of God's word (the bible) and secondly through personal revelation. I truly believe the promise found in the book of James: if we ask in faith, God will answer our questions.

The problem then becomes that each person may come to different conclusions (hence the thousands of denominations out there!) Why does this happen? Is God giving different answers to different people? That doesn't seem to make much sense to me.

The only "answer" I can come up with right now is that different people need different things from church. The churches may conflict with each other, but at least all the members have the same goal in mind - getting closer to their creator.

If you don't mind a personal story...

As a teenager, my sister started to go to a different church than the one my parents attended. My mom was heartbroken and at her wit's end about what to do. My suggestion to her was to do nothing. My sister was not off doing drugs, getting into legal trouble, or doing many of the other things a teenager could be doing. She wasn't even denying faith. She was going to church. Is it really that bad? She found friendship and support in this new congregation. That was where she needed to be in order for her faith to grow.

My feeling about organized religion? I (unfortunately) don't seem to have the personal strength to continue on my own. I need to hear others sharing their faith. I need to participate in bible study led by someone who has studied it more than I. I also grow by sharing and teaching that which I know of myself.

I hope that touches a bit on your thoughts. I remember being impressed by your blog (eons ago!) about how you and Ben were practicing your faith at home instead of with a church. You both seem to be doing an amazing job with your kids and with growing your faith (again, based on your old blog entries). Is that still how you worship? You have great insight into things spiritual (and also a beautiful manner of expressing yourself through writing).

Thanks for your thoughts...this has definitely been a thoughtful gospel discussion. Feel free to comment/start a discussion anytime!